Traveler, writer, reviewer, all-round observer. I like anything cool & fast, but occasionally sit at a cafe watching the world go by.
Combining high quality studio photography, professional model direction, and computer graphics, M.A.R.S. Photography’s (Multi-dimensional Art Renditions Studio) debut at last year’s NY Comic Con was a huge hit, and they did it again this year with more features, equipment, and software.
I came across this photo-tech team at the Eternal Con Pop Culture Expo in June, and they gave me a taste of what they were capable of (you can read my review of M.A.R.S. Photography here). Imagine yourself costumed as your favorite character for Halloween, Comic Con, Expo, or costume party -with the direction of one of their photographers to help give your best character pose, and their addition of fore and background graphics, you now have something to remember that “living the moment” for years to come.
M.A.R.S. Photography allowed me to follow them on their second NY Comic Con experience. Armed with a ray gun, and dressed in a black suit, tie, and shades, I showed up as an M.I.B. Agent – they all had smiles when they saw me, knowing exactly what kind of image to create for my photo shoot. A short while later, when they showed me what they produced, I was amazed at the results, it was just like a movie poster!
I had the opportunity to interview Matt Chiang and the rest of the staff that helped start this new trend in photo-tech. Matt was the first to greet me, “Hello Comics Crux!”
I asked Matt what is their expectancy for this weekend. “For the first day, we’re not too sure how things will turn out, but we know each day will have more and more people. As you see here, we have all new equipment which we’ll be testing out today and Friday, and we’ll be ready to go full blast by Saturday and Sunday.”
My next question was a general one, “How’s it been for you so far with business, and your popularity with the comic industry and cosplay, especially with the progression of the conventions you’ve been to?”
“Well, with every convention we do, we become more and more popular as we get our name out there. We’ve also worked with well known names such as the now famed Dolly Crux, who used a few of the photos we took of her for a contest, and won best female cosplayer. One of our goals is to get our name out there and network to show our art and what we can do.”
Based in Bridgewater, Somerset area in central New Jersey, they cover a lot of ground. “We come to New York quite often. One of our key photographers and designer, Sharon, is actually in Queens covering that area. We’ve done a lot of weddings, and working now with slow motion video booths -basically setting up the camera to do 5-second video shots with props. Depending on where the video shoot is, we send out a team closest to the area.”
Having been in business for over a year now, I asked Matt what was their strangest, or memorable shoot so far. “Well, we’ve had quite a few cosplays that’s really out there, but one awkward shoot we had was right near a waterfall. We first checked it out, and it looked great on the map. Little did we know, new construction blocked our path to get there at the day of the shoot, so we wound up climbing down a 40 foot cliff! Other than that, nothing truly out of the ordinary. We’re still new, but I can imagine we’ll be experiencing strange things yet to come. We’re really excited to see what the future will bring us.”
I then asked, “How’d you get the idea of integrating photography with graphic imagine?”
Matt said, “I had an interest in photography and did some work in it. Eventually, two graphic designers approached me, loving my work, and wanted to work with me. So we collaborated together with some projects, but then I started thinking, why have photography and graphic design work separately? Normally, you’d have to hire a photographer for the shoot, then find a graphic designer willing to work on that image. We began working together to become a one-stop-photo-shoot to make things easier for our clients. It’s a very different mind-set. We’re still considered as new -with all graphic software and technology coming out, we’re still working out the kinks and making things work for our clients. With every convention and photo shoot we do, we learn a lot. It is difficult, but very rewarding!”
The next person I interviewed was their Public Relations/Consultant, Josh Huang – part of his job is to question clients to see what they would like for their photo shoot. My first question to him was how did he get his start with M.A.R.S. “That’s actually a funny story. At our Volleyball intramural team at Rutgers University, we were one person short, so I invited Matt. After an amazing victory, we went to celebrate with the team. He then told me about his photography company and asked if I’d like to help out. I first went to check it out, and after finding out we were only a few minutes away from each other, met the staff, and really liked what they did, I said yes and joined the team. At the time I was a PR Chair for the student organization on campus, so I brought those skills to team M.A.R.S. Since then, things been pretty busy, and that’s great!”
I asked him what kind of photo shoots are more popular with them. “The most popular has been portfolios. Many people working on their resume want that professional look for their online profiles such as LinkedIn. And other people, such as university Anime Clubs, like the idea of how we can create a background for them by designing layers upon layers of images to match what they’re wearing. One person we’ve reached out to is going to do something with Star Wars. I can’t wait to get that started! It’s going to be really fun.”
When I mentioned the similarity to the 501st Legion (a world-wide Star Wars cosplay group), he pointed out that many cosplayers take their costume wearing to another level, “One of the storm troopers we did a shoot for at Eternal Con told me his outfit cost about $2,000! It’s an actual movie replica. His family flipped over the cost, but he truly enjoyed it. We put a photo-shoot together for him to make it really special, and he really loved it!”
I asked Josh the same question I asked Matt, “What was your most memorable shoot so far?”
“There was this one guy that was really into Pokemon, and his dad was even more excited over it. He was able to name the 9 original Pokemons from way back in the day to use in the background. He directed us exactly where each Pokemon should be and how they should be posing. During the shoot, he was throwing the Pokemon ball in the air, and was basically dominating the pictures. It was awesome! It was really great to see him own it – to have a customer knowing what they want, and be in charge like that.”
The next person I spoke to was someone Matt confessed to me that M.A.R.S. would be lost without, Katherine Yeh – the General Manager whose key role is taking care of transactions and order forms, as well as keeping the group organized. “So how did you join M.A.R.S.?”
Her eyes gleamed as she recalled how it started, “I knew Matt from college. He was really into photography, so he asked me if I can model for him to help get his name out there. I also helped him at last year’s Comic Con by managing things – it went very well, so he asked me to join the company.”
I asked her what did she dress up as back then. “I went as Yomiko Readman, super agent from ‘Read or Die’. I just put on a skirt, a white blouse with a vest, and glasses. It was fun!”
I went on to ask about M.A.R.S.’s success. “Well, as any start ups, things are slow going, although we have been doing very well.”
Upon writing this article, M.A.R.S. informed me that by the end of the weekend, they had 83 orders, this translates to 415 photos – to say it was a good weekend, is an understatement. “Lately, we’ve started to get the hang of what we want to do, the direction to take, and what to add to the company. We have been expanding to do nearly everything, from weddings, and formal events. This way we don’t seem we’re only doing cosplay and conventions.”
The last person I was able to speak to, was their tech expert, Willy Peng – his job is to help set up the wiring, networks, and provide any other tech ideas for the team. I asked him how excited is he to be here. “I’m really excited! It’s my second NYCC.”
He agreed with me to having heard the possibility of this might become the largest Con as of date.
When I asked him if he was ready for the weekend, he gave a big smile while nodding toward the new equipment they brought. “We have a lot of new services and products, so we do expect more people to come to our booth. Along with innovative and creative ideas, such as combining marketing and technology, I try to make sure all the new technology works together. For example that all-in-one computer, and this photo-processor are some of our new things we brought here.”
I asked him to walk me through all they had. “We have these two 10-foot trusses with 40″ LED’s, and this allows us to show our live-editing to the crowd on one screen, and a slide show on the other with before and after images from our shoots. We also have our photo-printers, a smaller monitor set up for consulting, the all-in-one that also serves as a tablet to allow our photographers to move around and show the images instantly, and lastly several laptops behind the station.”
This made me curious about how much M.A.R.S. must have invested. “Well, the new gear cost us a few thousand dollars, but to enable us to do what we want in the studio, at the Cons, and other shoots, it was well worth the investment! What really helps is how it turns a complicated process, into something simple for the customer. Now the customer can get their pictures or video in a faster time frame, rather than having to wait for a long period of time.”
While we were talking, images from my photo shoot were being displayed on their LED screens as they were working on the digital background, light beams, etc… “I truly am confident that we’ll be one of the most exciting companies in photography and design, especially in the Con environment.”
I mentioned the other competing photography booths that are around the convention. “Even though we’re competing, we love to learn from each other. We’ll go over there to see the kind of things they’re doing, and they’ll come over to do the same.”
With 3 cameras, 2 photographers, and 4 days, team M.A.R.S. became quite the buzz from day one. A great number of people took interest with what they had to offer, taking a hand full of business cards and pamphlets from their booth. And along with the common enthusiasts, a majority of competing cosplayers, both amateur and professional, used M.A.R.S.’s services to enhance their look and have something to remember their moment, making that special weekend last for years to come.
To read their own 4-day experience at the NYCC, along with images of what they created including before/after pictures, you can find them here on their website.